The global economic crisis is quite a problem these days. According to the freelance community, things are a bit slow, with many saying they haven't had any projects for months. Other lucky ones have had steady work, but not a great experience. This is not good news for freelancers in 2023, but it doesn't mean they are destined to fail.
What can be done in these cases? Well, the optimists will say that the worst of the economic crises is over, that the dollar is rising again and that better times are ahead. And, obviously, we hope that is true. But if the 2020s have taught us anything, it is that the future is far from certain.
Ultimately, in tough times like these, you can't rely on anyone but yourself. You have to rely on yourself to get ahead and, as a freelancer, much of that depends on marketing. Specifically, marketing yourself and your personal brand.
That doesn't mean selling yourself as something you're not. It means recognizing your unique qualities, explaining them clearly, and amplifying them in the eyes of the right people.
This probably isn't your favorite part of the job. You'd rather devote yourself to what you love, whether it's art, design, photography or whatever, than promoting yourself on social media. But how you market yourself will be the deciding factor in whether clients choose you over your competitors. It's as simple as that.
How do you get there? Read on and we'll explain the different phases of building your personal brand.
1. Define your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
Your USP is the unique combination of skills, experience and personal qualities that differentiate you from your competition. There are a few things you can ask yourself in order to get it, for example: "What are my strengths as a creative professional? What specialized skills or niches do I excel in? What do clients appreciate about my work?
That doesn't mean, however, that you have to be an expert at it. Many succeed by doing exactly the opposite. For example, there are professionals who build their careers based on the needs of clients. This ability to be multifaceted will help you be able to work with anyone and know why people prefer to work with you.
But whether you are a generalist or a specialist, the important thing is to have your own point of view and something that differentiates you in your work. In other words, decide what it is that you (and only you) can offer a client. Once you have that nailed down, everything else should follow, from how you write emails to the design of your portfolio website.
2. Be yourself
The specific skills you offer are only one part of your USP. The other half, just as important, is your personality. At the end of the day, people who hire freelancers are hiring individuals. They want to have a human relationship; one in which you occasionally talk about unimportant things, or live together without talking about work. We spend so much of our lives working, so it's important to have fun while we do it.
Remember that a big part of getting the job is being a good person, someone your customers feel comfortable with. So by being yourself you will stand out from others and it may be easier for clients to identify with you.
3. Be authentic
When work gets busy, the temptation is to say yes to everything, even what you're not comfortable with. But ultimately, the worst thing you can do is to fill your schedule with projects you can't take on and, more importantly, don't know how to do. Clients will pick up on that lack of authenticity. Instead, we recommend that you honor who you are and don't pretend to be someone else in front of clients.
Remember that it's important not to try to appeal to everyone; you have to be selective about the type of work you do and the people you work with.
4. Draw on past clients
Once you have your USP, it's time to start attracting new clients. There are many ways to do this, and in our article How to get international clients as a freelancer we delve into this process.
However, one of the best ways to find new clients is to get referrals from those you already have. Contact your current and past clients and ask them what they liked about working with you. By taking the opportunity to show them what it's like to work with you and not just the services you offer you will not only attract new clients, but others with shared values.
A great idea is that, after finishing a project with a new client, you send them a feedback questionnaire to find out what they thought of you and what it was like working with you. This way you make sure you get feedback from every client that comes your way and use those referrals for future clients.
5. Tap into your network of contacts
Your network is everything. When you're struggling to land freelance projects, it pays to reach out to colleagues, collaborators and basically everyone you've ever met in the creative industry to find work. And if you don't have a network yet? Reach out to other members of your community who are more advanced and established than you; constantly befriending more experienced names can help you stand out. Let them know you like what they do, or, alternatively, let them know you're there to help. There are no doors that compliments can't open.
6. Think local, not global.
In theory, social media allows you to promote your work to a global audience. But in reality, getting national clients is easier. So you may be better off looking for clients locally, at least to start with. Often what works best is to do it on a smaller scale. If the competition is too much at the global level, at the national level it will be more accessible. It's incredibly difficult to "stand out" on something like LinkedIn, which is what everyone wants to do. But standing out in your local business community can be far more beneficial and bring in far more work than you'll ever need.
Be the nicest person to work with and answer emails like a dream. Also, lean on your freelance superpower and don't worry about what everyone else is doing.